I grew up in a right wing household, so I’m not one of those liberals who’ve never spent any time connecting on an intimate basis with conservatives. I spent my early life hearing conservative talk around the kitchen table, drinking right wing philosophy along with my Nestle’s Quick.(Not long ago I came across a letter my mother had written to her parents in 1960 in which she lamented the fact that John F. Kennedy had stolen the election out from under that fine man Richard Nixon!)
Until the last 15 or 20 years, I felt that I understood conservatism quite well, even as I disagreed with virtually every aspect of it. And while I found much of it repugnant, particularly the racist side which the Southern Strategy embraced, I had never actually feared it. Perhaps that’s because the people I knew might have been right wing, but I had never heard them say that all liberals (blacks/gays/feminists) should be killed. That was new to me.
This rhetoric traveled under the radar through the jungle tom toms of talk radio, which seemed to be using a language I hadn’t heard before — or at least hadn’t heard it used in quite this way. Sure, the turbulent 60s had spawned “love it or leave it,” but this verbal violence was aimed at entire classes of people and most especially anyone who held liberal political views. It looked like this:
When I started blogging six years or so ago, I wrote a lot about this, trying to describe what I was seeing and hoping to understand what had happened to the mainstream conservatism I had grown up with and thought I knew. Until I came across Dave Neiwert’s blog Orcinus, I didn’t even know there was a word for it. Once I read his series of posts called “Rush, Newspeak and Fascism,” I did. It’s called “eliminationism,” which Neiwert defines as “a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.”
This new strain of conservatism, then, wasn’t actually conservatism at all, but a hearkening back to old radical strains of American tribalism and imperialism (and some very unpleasant 20th century European political movements) which had all focused on the annihilation of perceived internal enemies. One would have thought that notions of expelling racial groups or committing genocide had been purged from the American body politic sometime around the turn of the last century. But here it was again, all mixed in with white supremacy, fundamentalist religion, nationalism, chauvanism and paranoia — and it was being absorbed into the mainstream of one of the two American political parties.
Neiwert has been studying the American far right for years, writing about the militia movement and listening to the voices of the right as they grew ever more radical, violent and insular. He understands where many of these people come from, he gets what social elements feed into their paranoid sense of victimization. And he documents all of that in his fascinating new book The Eliminationists. But he does something even more valuable than merely observe this social and political phenomenon. He analyzes how this worldview makes its way into mainstream American culture and that is perhaps the most startling and downright chilling revelation in his book. Once you understand how that happens, you will never see Glenn Beck and Michael Savage as benign figures of fun again.
The Eliminationists is an extremely timely book, not because we are on the verge of fascism, which Neiwert patiently explains is not the case. But with the Republican party shrinking to its most ardent true believers and the conservative movement floundering on the shoals of its massive failure at governance, this ugly tendency is both more prevalent and more obvious. Recent shootings in Tennessee and Pennsylvania were shown to have been motivated by the malignant misinformation that’s being passed down through radical right wing groups to the mainstream media. The Tea Party movement features a febrile paranoia about the president, comparing him to Mao, Stalin and Hitler. People are stockpiling guns. On the edge and losing power and prestige, the conservative id is pulsating like a raw nerve.
Most Firedoglake readers know David Neiwert well, from his writing here and elsewhere over the past few years. But I encourage you to buy this book, even if you think you already understand this thesis. By reading the full story all in one place, you will gain an understanding of how this works in a much fuller way. And this is important because the netroots community is the only place in our society where average citizens follow this story in any consistent way. (After all, when the FBI recently validated Neiwert’s observations that all the pieces were in place for a revival of the militia movement of the 1990s, the government was forced to apologize.) We have web sites like Media Matters and Newshounds now, which document the increasingly hysterical rhetoric as it flows through the media bloodstream, but Neiwert’s work is indispensable to understanding where it comes from and the historical and social context from which it arises.
So, with no further ado, please welcome back to Firedoglake, your pal and mine, the author of the great new book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized The American Right, David Neiwert: